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National Geographic Expeditions - Vietnam & Laos & Cambodia

Terra Indochina: Three countries, one world

Highlights

  • Expert-led small group tour to the main attractions of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

  • Accommodation in selected small lodgings

  • Explore the deep green mountain ranges of Sa Pa on the luxurious Topas Mountain Express

  • Visit the first and only buffalo dairy in Laos

  • Away from the tourist crowds, sail along Lan Ha Bay with the Peony Cruise

Description

Explore ancient temple compounds entwined with thick roots in Siem Reap. Sail along bizarre rock formations in Halong Bay. Swim in emerald-green glittering natural pools in Luang Prabang and hike through elaborate rice terraces in the mountains of Sa Pa! All this and more awaits you on our National Geographic Expedition through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Join us for a two-week-long round trip and discover the many facets of Indochina, always accompanied by an expert who will introduce you to the culture, nature and history of the three different yet similar countries.

Destination

Asia

Hanoi - Sa Pa - Lan Ha Bay - Saigon - Siem Reap - Luang Prabang

Dates: 17.03. - 01.04.2022; 16.11. - 01.12.2022

Expert: photographer and author Kay Maeritz

Welcome to Vietnam! Your guide is already waiting for you behind the baggage claim to receive you and bring you together with your tour group to your hotel.

Relax from the long flight and unwind in your room or by the pool. In the evening, your tour group will meet for a welcome dinner together at the hotel.

Hanoi airport - hotel: 26 km / approx. 1 hour

2 nights with breakfast in Hanoi, Vietnam

Well rested, you will start the day with a journey into Hanoi's history. You will start your tour with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Here you will learn more about the man who led Vietnam's struggle for independence from French colonial rule and is still considered the country's father figure - Ho Chi Minh. After his death in 1969, his body was embalmed and laid in a glass sarcophagus for posterity.

Following this moving encounter, you will visit the Imperial Citadel on the banks of the Yuang Jiang, the Red River. The citadel was the seat of rulership and center of power for several Vietnamese imperial dynasties for over a millennium.

After a traditional lunch, you will visit another relic of early times: the Temple of Literature, built in the 11th century as a tribute to the Chinese scholar Confucius. Bringing you to modern times is a look at the Long Bien Bridge, built between 1899 and 1902, at a time when the French still ruled Vietnam. Nowadays, quite a few scooters, motorcycles and the occasional passenger train squeeze across the bridge.

The history-filled excursion ends with a 30-minute cyclo tour of Hanoi's bustling Old Quarter. Here, the city's residents find everything they need in their daily lives - from noodles to lamps to Buddha statues. The famous 36 streets of the district were named after the products sold in their stores.

After exploring the shady alleys of the Old Quarter, enjoy a strong Vietnamese coffee overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake. Take a photo of the downtown skyline before returning to your hotel around 4:30 p.m. There you will have time to rest a bit before attending Hanoi's famous water puppet show in the evening.

The water puppet show is a fantastic performance of Vietnamese performing arts. The production, which originated in 11th century North Vietnamese villages, tells stories about the daily life of local people and is accompanied by traditional music.

After the show, enjoy a 200-year-old Hanoian specialty: cha ca, where fish is prepared with vegetables and rice noodles and served with saffron-enriched oils. End your evening the same way as the locals - with a hot cup of coffee or tea in one of the cozy sidewalk cafes in the Old Town.

Today you will get up early. Your group will be picked up at the hotel around 7 a.m. by the Topas Mountain Express and driven into the mountains to Sa Pa, more precisely to National Geographic's Topas Ecolodge just outside the tourist center. During the 5-hour drive, you will have enough time and comfort to take a little nap. Arriving in Sa Pa, you will immediately feel the pleasantly cool mountain air on your skin. You have left the hustle and bustle of Hanoi behind and now you can relax a little in your bungalow. Enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains and valleys from your private balcony.

In the afternoon, you will set out for an easy walk of about 2.5 hours. The walk starts at the ecolodge on a quiet road overlooking the rice terrace below. Your path will take you slightly uphill until you reach Lech village, home to a Red Dao tribe. In a wooden house you will meet friendly hosts who will tell you about their daily life. The Red Dao wear colorful traditional costumes and - as the name suggests - red headdresses. A distinctive feature is also the shaved hair and eyebrows of the women. After exchanging views with your hosts, you slowly make your way back. You will walk on small paths past rice terraces and cross a suspension bridge - an optimal photo stop for the vacation album. Along the way, your guide will explain everything you need to know about the culture of the local people.

Hanoi - Sapa: 300 km / approx. 5 hours

2 nights with breakfast in Sa Pa, Vietnam

Look forward to a great breakfast and pack your daypack for today's trek! Around 9 a.m., you will be picked up by your driver and driven deeper into the Hoang Lien National Park to the trekking starting point near Sin Chai village. You are now officially off the beaten path Enjoy beautiful views of high mountains, deep valleys and sparkling waterfalls. Your trail will take you to the Red Dao village of Nam Nhiu, which you will leave behind after a short stop. Passing rice terraces, you will pass a river until you finally reach Nam Cang village. A fortifying lunch awaits you at the Topas Riverside Lodge.

Together with your guide, you will then explore the village. Nam Cang is located in the most remote area of Sa Pa. The Red Dao people living here wear the most colorful and diverse costumes of all Vietnamese tribes. Learn how the villagers make herbal baths and medicine as well as rice paper, jewelry and embroidery. Weather permitting, you will also have the opportunity to swim in the river. In the afternoon, return to Topas Ecolodge.

Today you have time to take a deep breath. For the morning we have no program item planned for you. As an alternative to relaxing, you can also borrow one of the lodge's high-quality mountain bikes free of charge to explore the surrounding area. Or how about a half-day tour to the highest peak in Indochina, Fansipan? Decide for yourself how you want to spend your last morning in the mountains of Sa Pa. At 3:00 pm, you will be picked up and returned to your hotel in Hanoi for an overnight stopover.

Sapa - Hanoi: 300 km / approx. 5 hours

1 overnight with breakfast in Hanoi, Vietnam

After breakfast we will drive you towards Halong Bay, to Cat Hai. Thanks to the new highway, you will arrive at the ferry terminal of Cat Hai after about 2 hours. On the way you will pass the longest bridge in Southeast Asia. Around noon, we welcome you to your floating luxury accommodation, the Peony Cruise, for the coming night.

After making yourself comfortable in your spacious cabin with a balcony, you will meet your ship's crew for a short briefing. Over a refreshing welcome drink, they will explain the exciting program for the next two days.

Lunch will then be served on the outside deck of the ship as you leisurely cruise along the limestone islands of the Con Vit area, which jut out of the sea in an impressive manner. Since the route of the Peony Cruise along Cat Ba Island is used by only a few cruise ships, you will still experience a bit of untouched nature here.

After lunch, you will dock at Cat Ba Island. By bus you will be driven to the Trung Trang Cave, located in the middle of Cat Ba National Park and surrounded by Kim Giao Forest.

In the late afternoon, drive to the sparsely populated area of Tra Bau in Lan Ha Bay. Enjoy a swim in the cool emerald waters. On board, you can participate in a traditional cooking class. The chef will teach you how to prepare some Vietnamese dishes.

In the evening, a sumptuous candlelight dinner awaits you on deck. Enjoy delicious regional dishes in a romantic setting. After dinner, there will be an opportunity for night fishing for squid.

Hanoi - Cat Hai: 130 km / approx. 2 hours

1 night full board in Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam

For the early risers among you, a Tai Chi session will take place on the sundeck before breakfast at just after 6 a.m. This is a gentle physical exercise that combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and easy movements.

Afterwards, you will have the opportunity to explore the hidden charms of Ao Ech Bay on your own by kayak. Around 10 a.m., you will slowly cruise back to the port. On the way, a sumptuous brunch buffet will be served. After check-out, you will return to Hanoi's airport. The next chapter of your journey is about to begin: you will fly to Saigon in the south of Vietnam.

Once there, you will meet with your guide as usual and get transferred to your hotel.

Cat Hai - Hanoi: 130 km / approx. 2 hours

Hanoi - Saigon flight: approx. 2 hours

3 nights with breakfast in Saigon, Vietnam

Your day begins with an introduction to Vietnam's vibrant southern metropolis. If you didn't know better, you might wonder if you've changed not only the city but also the country. Whether in architectural, cultural, climatic or political terms, Hanoi and Saigon, which is also known as Ho Chi Minh City, are as different as night and day.

After being transported to Chinatown, trade in your motorized ride for one of the city's finest modes of transportation - a cyclo! The traditional rickshaws are the perfect choice for exploring Chinatown's winding alleys. After reaching Cha Tam Church and the Chua Ong Pagoda, walk down a street dedicated to traditional herbal medicine. You will be amazed at how many different ailments the locals cure with herbal remedies.

During a cooking demonstration, you will be served a freshly prepared Vietnamese lunch at a local restaurant.

This morning, we'll drive you to Cai Be, a two-hour drive away in the Mekong Delta, where you'll board the Cai Be Princess. The crew of this sampan boat will welcome you with cold towels and a refreshing drink as you set off on a leisurely cruise along the busy waterways of the Mekong Delta.

On the river, you will be able to spot all kinds of boats: From small fishing boats to cargo ships loaded with fruits and vegetables. Watch the hustle and bustle of the river while the attentive crew serves you tea and fruit. On Tan Phon Island, board a small rowboat to explore the hidden mangroves of the channel. Afterwards, you will visit an old house from the 19th century. On the way, you will make a stop to gain insight into the local industry. You will be able to observe how coconut candies and puffed rice, products that provide the river dwellers with their livelihood, are made.

Your cruise ends at the Le Longanier restaurant. Lunch will be served in this colonial-style villa in a lush tropical garden surrounded by fruit trees by the river. After lunch, you will take a short walk along a small canal towards Ba Bon Bridge, where your driver will be waiting to take you back to Saigon to your hotel. Upon your arrival in the city, the rest of the afternoon is at your leisure.

Time spent traveling from Ho Chi Minh to Cai Be and back to Ho Chi Minh: 100 km / about 2 hours each way.

It's time to say goodbye to Vietnam. You will be transferred to the airport for your onward flight to Cambodia, more precisely to Siem Reap. Once there, you will meet with your guide as usual and get transferred to your hotel for the next few days. In the evening, we have planned a street food tour in the streets of Siem Reap for you.

Prepare yourself for a culinary journey that will beguile your senses. We will drive you to a Night Food Market just outside the city. Have you ever tried fried tarantulas? Alternatively, authentic Khmer dishes and much more are on offer. A plethora of traditional and authentic snacks, some of which cannot be found anywhere else, are waiting for you.

After this epicurean experience, we will take you and your tour group by Remork, a Cambodian tuk tuk, to the bustling Pub Street. This colorful and brightly lit street is lined with numerous pubs, restaurants and night markets. If you haven't tasted enough, you can sample more delicacies. Alternatively, you can browse the wide range of local handicrafts. The evening is rounded off with a cocktail at the Miss Wong Cocktail Bar or the Sokkhak River Lounge.

Flight duration from Saigon to Siem Reap: approx. 1 hour 20 minutes

Time spent traveling from the airport in Siem Reap to the hotel: 8 km / approx. 20 minutes

3 nights with breakfast in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today is dedicated to the famous Angkor temples. Hardly any place fascinates as much as the ruins of the mighty Khmer Empire, whose temple complexes are spread over about 200 square kilometers.

You will start your tour with a visit to the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Fifty-four demon heads and 54 god heads each line the entrance to the approximately 100-meter-long bridge that leads to the 20-meter-high gateway into the Angkor Empire. Your next stop is the Bayon temple. A distinctive feature of this monument are the 54 towers that represented the 54 provinces of the Khmer Empire. Each tower has four faces aligned with the four cardinal directions.

Continue to Phimeanakas: a pyramid-shaped temple, with two water pools on the back. The pools were once used for religious rituals, but now serve only as swimming pools for Khmer children. From the walkable top of the temple, you'll have an impressive view of the Angkor complex. View the royal steps, consisting of the Terrace of Elephants to the south and the Terrace of the Leper King to the north, which form the boundaries of the royal palace. This is followed by a short drive to one of the most popular temples of all: Ta Phohm. This sanctuary is entwined by thick roots of ancient strangler figs, giving the site a truly magical aura.

To escape the hot midday sun, we will drive you back to the city for lunch. Later in the afternoon, explore the heart of the site: Angkor Wat. The largest sacred structure in the world consists of a three-tiered pyramid rising 65 meters above the ground and crowned by five lotus towers. You'll end this sightseeing day at the top of Pre Rup Temple overlooking the sunset over the jungle.

Today we will drive you to the edge of Tonle Sap Lake, from where you will take a river cruise to Kompong Phluk. This is an isolated Khmer community with three villages built on wooden stilts. The community consists of about 3,000 residents who grow vegetables and fish on floating platforms. By boat, you will cruise through mangrove forests: A unique ecosystem that survives for months on flooded ground and houses a variety of bird species. Watch out for macaques, a monkey species that prefers to eat crabs in the mangrove forests.

Afterwards, you will continue to a small village called Chansar. You will stop just outside the village and board an ox cart for a ride through the fields to the home of a Khmer family that specializes in making brooms. Watch the production and try to make a broom yourself from natural materials. Afterwards, embark on a guided walk through the village where, depending on the weather, you will have the opportunity to go fishing, grow crops or take care of the oxen.

For lunch, you will have a simple Khmer meal. Afterwards, you will have a chance to interact with the locals before slowly making your way back.

By the way, the proceeds of your tour today will go directly to the community to improve the lives of local people.

On the way back to your hotel, you will stop at a Buddhist temple where you will receive a blessing from the monks. Spend the rest of the afternoon as you wish. Enjoy the last evening in Phum Baitang.

In the evening, we will take you on a short walk through the famous night market of Luang Prabang. At the tranquil market, which opens its doors at dusk, you can browse through colorful textiles, quilts, carvings, clothing and all sorts of other things. The perfect opportunity to grab a few souvenirs for friends and family back home.

Siem Reap - Luang Prabang flight: approx. 1 hour 30 minutes

From the Luang Prabang airport to the hotel: 5 km / approx. 15 minutes

3 nights with breakfast in Luang Prabang, Laos

This morning you will explore some cultural highlights of the former royal capital. Wat Xieng Thong, one of the largest and most decorative temples, and the Buddhist temple of Wat Mai with its beautiful gilded facade are on the program, as well as the former royal palace, which is enthroned in the center of the city and now functions as a national museum. After this short city tour, you will climb the 328 steps to Phousi Mountain. From the top you will have a unique panoramic view of the city.

Later, you will drive to the legendary Kuangsi Waterfalls. The waterfalls rush down over several levels of a limestone formation. The resulting shimmering turquoise pools are perfect for a refreshing dip. If you wish, you can take a short hike to the top of the falls. In the immediate vicinity is the Sun Bear Reserve Centee - a conservation center that rescues the furry animals from the wildlife trade.

On the way back to Luang Prabang, after a fortifying lunch, you will visit the Buffalo Dairy Farm. At the first and only buffalo dairy in Laos, you will be offered a wide range of handmade cheese products. These include mozzarella, blue cheese, feta and ice cream made from buffalo milk, to name a few. By visiting the farm, you are supporting local farmers on the ground. Proceeds are used for improved feeding, veterinary and breeding programs.

During the private guided tour, you will first meet your guide who will lead you through the dairy. Get up close and personal with the 450kg but gentle buffalo, who love to be petted - and even more love to be fed. They love eating grass and bananas. After the meal, the spa treatment takes place. Not for you, but for the buffaloes! The gentle creatures love to be washed and brushed. Afterwards, you will learn how a buffalo is milked and why buffalo milk is good for the local population.

After the tour, you will drive back to your hotel in Luang Prabang.

The morning procession of the monks in Luang Prabang is an impressive tradition. So get up early to the sound of the temple gong and witness this mystical ritual. You will walk through the quiet streets of the city center in the pleasant cool morning air and watch the daily procession of about 300 young monks silently walking through the streets, collecting rice and other food given by the townspeople in their bronze bowls. The ritual is linked to a Buddhist tradition in which the monks ask for their daily food to demonstrate humility. Almsgiving is an important religious act in Buddhism and should be performed respectfully by locals and tourists alike. If you would like to participate in the meal offering, your guide will be happy to show you the best way to interact with the monks.

Today is time to say goodbye. Two wonderful weeks through Indochina are coming to an end. Depending on your departure time, your guide will take you to the airport for your journey home.

Closest city: Hanoi

Closest airport: Noi Bai International Airport

Duration of the trip: Dates: 17.03. - 01.04.2022; 16.11. - 01.12.2022

Included

  • 15 nights accommodation in the above mentioned accommodations
    • 2 nights' accommodation at The Lapis Hotel**** with breakfast in a double room, Hanoi, Vietnam

    • 2 nights at Topas Ecolodge***** with breakfast in a bungalow, Lao Cai, Vietnam, National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World

    • 1 night's lodging at The Lapis Hotel**** with breakfast in a double room, Hanoi, Vietnam

    • 1 night's full board accommodation on the Peony Cruise in a Deluxe Balcony cabin, Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam

    • 3 nights at Liberty Central Saigon Riverside**** with breakfast in a Deluxe Room, Saigon, Vietnam

    • 3 nights at Lotus Blanc Hotel**** with breakfast in a Deluxe Room, Siem Reap, Cambodia

    • 3 nights at Le Bel Air Resort**** with breakfast in a Garnier Room, Luang Prabang, Laos (not included in short option)

  • Meals according to program
  • Guide
  • Accompanying expert
  • All transfers
  • All domestic flights
  • All entrance fees to the sights listed

Not included

  • International flights
  • Optional excursions
  • Airport taxes
  • Personal expenses
  • Drinks during meals, unless specifically mentioned
  • Voluntary tips
  • Luggage fees at the airport
  • Visa, if required

Services & Notes

  • Sightseeing tours depend on the weather and season. They can be slightly modified on site by the tour guide
  • Group size up to max. 12 participants
  • The duration of excursions indicated in the program are estimates and may change due to local conditions.
  • Please note that days 14 & 15 are interchanged in the March trip.

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